Add A Little Fun To Your Daily Commute With The Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet

For those that want the comfort of a mid-size executive sedan on their morning commute, but also want to unwind a little on their way home from the office: I present to you the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet.

Well equipped models feature all of the technology and luxury offered by E-Class sedan. In fact, from the front seat forward, it is almost identical in appearance. Sleek styling on the exterior, and a beautifully dressed dash complete with two large displays on the inside. The leather wrapped seats are soft to the touch and supportive in all the right areas. Depending on how you configure the car, you can also get massaging seats. Surprisingly, the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet is almost as practical as the sedan too. The rear seats are usable for a full-grown adult with the top up or down. And, their is enough truck space for two suit cases or your golf clubs.

What isn’t apparent from the outside is AMG’s new straight six bi-turbo engine that produces 429 horsepower and 384 pounds of torque. It is a great engine for a sporty car. The power curve is very linear with zero turbo-lag. The power output isn’t what I expected though from an AMG model; I was hoping for a rocket ship 0-to-60 mph time and a German muscle car like experience. Instead I got a respectable 4.4 second time and a nice bark from the exhaust. Of course I am just being picky after having the privilege of previously experiencing AMG engines with 12-cylinders and 600+ horsepower. On the plus side of having a more tame engine though, the E53 AMG has impressive fuel economy for an AMG. Up to 26 miles per gallon is great for a larger luxurious performance oriented car. On a weekend sports car, you typically don’t care about fuel economy. But it can get quite annoying having to fill up the tank multiple times throughout the week. The engine sounds quite good thanks to adjustable baffles in the exhaust for loud and quite modes. Handling characteristics are quite nice for this type of vehicle. In sport+ mode, the vehicle hunkers down in the corners. While in comfort mode, the adjustable suspension system minimizes bumps in the road.

Cabriolet is French for convertible. And while the E53 AMG Cabriolet is a true convertible in every sense of the word, I was surprised by how coupe like the car feels with the top up. Gone are the burdens of driving a convertible. The insulated top keeps the cold and heat out very well. It also dampens road noise to traditional fixed roof levels. Even at highway speeds, I could easily forget I am driving a convertible. I credit Mercedes engineers and the advancements in Haartz top materials. But when nature calls, the top goes down in a matter of seconds – even when driving at slow speeds.

All this technology, luxury, and performance comes at a price though. The Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet that I tested had a price tag of just under $100,000. For that kind of money you could get Mercedes’ flagship sedan, the S-Class, or the SL-class convertible. But the S-Class wouldn’t be as fun to drive. And the SL isn’t as practical for everyday use.

Many will argue that a panoramic roof or a sunroof with the windows down will deliver the same experience, but nothing compares to the freedom of a true convertible. It will release your stress and quickly put a smile on your face.

The 2019 Audi Q3 Gets A Much Needed Upgrade

Entry level vehicles are often times contrived as being the cheapest way to buy the name plate, versus delivering a taste of what the brand represents. Obviously, the Audi Q3 will never be “as good” as its older brothers, the Q5, Q7 or Q8. But, throughout the years it felt like the baby SUV was the red headed stepchild of the Audi family: With the Q3 not having the same interior design or technology options as its larger SUV siblings.

But that has changed with the all-new Q3. It joins the Audi family as a full-blood member, with a sleek exterior and a plush interior worth of the four-rings badge. The 2019 Audi Q3 feels more like a shrunken SUV versus a lesser Q5 this time around. But in actuality, it is more like a miniature Q8, Audi’s $70,000 flagship SUV. That is because the Q3 is using Audi’s newest design language. The larger and more expensive Q5s and Q7s are still using Audi’s old design language; which is beautiful, but not stunning like its latest rendition on the Q8.

Like on the Audi Q8, the 2019 Audi Q3 features a large touchscreen display that seamlessly blends into the center of the dash. Here you can control a number of infotainment options, but best of all: It has wireless CarPlay. When synced, your phone, while inside your pocket, will appear on the dash to make phone calls, listen to music, navigate, and even find you the best nearby restaurant. The screen on center console is paired with another large display for viewing the instrument cluster; it is dubbed the “Virtual Cockpit.” A slew of information can custom presented here. Giving you focus to traditional gauges, the navigational map, or your music selection.

Like a proper Audi, the interior is a work of art; it is visually pleasing and precision crafted. It does include quite a bit of plastics, but all of the pieces appear to be high quality plastics with a nice finish. Aluminum trim is carefully placed throughout the cabin to give a high tech look. The door handles especially are beautifully crafted. Depending on how you configure your vehicle, additional brushed aluminum inlays, brown natural wood inlays, or orange alcantra inlays can create a unique look. The seats, steering wheel, gear lever, and part of the doors come in genuine leather standard. The options are black, brown, and gray.

The front seats were comfortable and spacious enough for long commutes or road trips despite the deceptively small size of the vehicle. The backseats were also comfortable and offer acceptable legroom. There is also plenty of cargo space for road trips, but if you need extra space, the second row seats fold flush with the rear storage area.

In terms of driving dynamics, the vehicle feels well planted at high speeds on the highway. It also steered wheel at slower speeds around town, and features a good turning radius. It is not a rocket ship, with only 228 horsepower, but it is peppy for a compact SUV. The sprite nature is largely thanks to the motors 258 pounds of torque. That translates into 28 more horsepower and 51 more pounds of torque compared to the previous generation Q3.

Other vehicles in this segment are the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1, and the Lexus UX. The Audi has a way nicer interior than the Mercedes. The Audi is slower than the BMW, but the Audi comes standard with all-wheel-drive and leather seats. The Lexus is cheaper than the Audi by a couple grand, but the Lexus also uses a cheap CVT transmission versus Audi’s eight-speed traditional automatic transmission.

If you want to learn more, I recommend visiting your local Audi dealer and taking a test drive for yourself.

Racing is why Michelin makes the best tires.

Disclosure: Michelin did not pay me to write this article, however they did provide race passes and travel accommodations for me to attend the Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago. In the spirit of full transparency, I paid full price for the last 3 sets of Michelin Pilot Sport tires on my car.

Most automotive industry manufacturers go racing for three reasons: the fame, the glory, and to sell things. Michelin on the other hand is different, they go racing to test their products in extreme conditions. This approach has allowed Michelin stayed on the forefront of tire technology for over 100 years. There greatest achievement was in 1946, when they introduced the radial tire: “a special radial ply design now almost universally used in tires that makes them both durable and flexible.” Then they struck gold again 1992, when they started using silica in their compounds. This formula, which was designed for racing, improves fuel efficiency (important for endurance racing) and enhances both wet and dry grip (important for all cars).

“Motorsports leads to better tires and increased safety.” So to learn about Michelin’s track to street approach, they sent me to Road Atlanta for Le Petit LeMans; the final race of the IMSA Sports Car Championship series. There I learned how every member of their all-volunteer motorsports team has one mission: to test, to learn, and to create a better product.

Le Petit LeMans consists of four classes, but the most relevant to the street is GTLM. It is a factory team only class that represents the fastest and most advanced GT cars on the track. You could easily see these vehicles on the road during your daily commute to the office. Furthermore, all of the participating cars have the same exact wheel size (18 inches) in order to create an even playing field.

Teams are able to choose their tire manufacturer at will, but the vast majority choose Michelin for every race. The decision doesn’t come lightly as the teams still have to pay for the tires no matter which manufacturer they choose. Pricing information was not released to me, but I am guessing that you are looking at somewhere around $60,000 per race in tires alone. Michelin leases tires to teams for a fee in order to reduce the cost of racing. This strategy ensures that competing tire manufactures don’t get access to Michelin’s technology, and it guarantees Michelin engineers access to analyze tire performance after each race.

The best R&D lab in the world can’t simulate the stress a tire endures during a 10+ hour endurance race. Which is why Michelin engineers bring the R&D lab to race track. Realtime data analysis is employed using RFID chips embedded into each tire. This allows engineers to know when each tire goes on to the track and when it gets off. After the race, data is cross referenced with teams to analysis relative weather conditions, the vehicle’s average speed for each set of tires, and how many laps were completed. No other major tire manufacturer is leveraging technology this way.

The data becomes increasingly relevant, because Michelin will often times test new compounds and tread patterns for each race. Michelin’s latest formulas are top secret, however I was told that they include both synthetic and organic materials. They have even gone as far as testing orange peels in the mix.

Before going to Le Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta with Michelin, I thought the main reason to get new tires on my car was because my tread was getting low – replacing a wearable item. Or in the case of collectibles, the tires would start to dry rot.

Now I realize that new tires are actually a performance and safety upgrade. This means that with each new evolution of rubber, my 20 year Porsche will get better and better. In fact a Michelin representative argued that modern Michelin street tires would out perform race tires from 50 years ago. It may look like the same black rubber, but Michelin tires will keep you planted on the race track and your family safer on the road.

Range Rover Sport SVR: The only true Super SUV

Lamborghini created the Urus to be a ultra-high performance SUV, however it lacks real off-road capabilities and significant cargo capacity. So does that still make it a true SUV? It has super car performance, but in my opinion it lacks the UV in sport utility vehicle. It is the “SUV” you buy if you wish you were driving a super car, but can’t right now because you have two kids and a dog in the backseat.

Rolls Royce’s newest member of family is the Cullinan, named after the world’s largest diamond. It is by far the most luxurious car in the world with 4X4 capabilities. It is definitely super luxury. I drove one about 6-months ago, and I was supremely impressed by the supple cabin and the isolated driving experience. To be fair, it is hard to say something negative about any Rolls Royce, because their cars are superb. But lets face it, it is not the quickest SUV on the market, so it can’t hold the title of super high performance. Additionally, it would be disrespectful to damage a handcrafted piece of machinery as fine as a Rolls Royce while you are driving off road. So the utility piece is also missing from the equation.

So with the two most expensive SUVs on the market not deserving the “Super SUV” title, what is left? There always is the original King of sporty SUVs, the Range Rover Sport. And like a few of its predecessors, the SVR edition brings super performance to a super capable and super luxury SUV.

In terms of performance, one work: Supercharged. Range Rover Sport SVR comes standard with a 5.0L supercharged V8 that pumps out 575 horsepower – on par with the McLaren 540C. It is a heavy vehicle (for a performance oriented machine), but it can still do 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 176 mph – impressive for a 5,000 pound vehicle. And because it is an SVR, it offers comparatively exceptional grip thanks to sticky Pirelli tires, a re-tuned suspension, and Active Dynamics damping. So the performance benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

In terms of capability, two words: Land Rover. Their all-wheel drive system with locking differentials and a low-speed transfer case will get you out of any situation. This includes water, because the Range Rover Sport SVR can wade through a shallow river – 33.5 inches to be exact. You can also tackle rock climbs thanks to its height adjustable suspension. Also in terms of capabilities, you can two up to 6,613 pounds and carry 27.5 cubic feet of cargo. So the capability benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

In terms of luxury, there words: It is British. The Range Rover Sport SVR is sportiest of the Range Rover fleet, but it is still incredibly posh inside. My test vehicle was covered top to bottom in supple leather with real aluminum and carbon fiber trim. The no-cost option performance seats are not as comfortable as the standard seats in regular Range Rover Sports, but the performance seats still perfectly mold to your body. In comfort mode the vehicle offered a smooth and quite ride – in contract to sport mode which opens the exhaust baffles, lowers the ride height, and tightens the dampers. And for the technology enthusiast: three large displays on the instrument cluster and center console put everything at your finger tips. From level 3 semi-autonomous driving to high quality audio coming out of the 23-speaker Meridian sound system. So the luxury benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

The 2020 Range Rover Sport SVR is the only vehicle that checks all the boxes for a true Super SUV. And since it starts at around $120,000, versus the Lamborghini at ~$200k and the Rolls Royce at ~$325k, the Range Rover Sport SVR is offered at a super price. I can’t think of a better high performance and capable daily driver.

Up Close With The C8 Corvette Convertible

I have been to a number of “Super Car World Premier Parties,” but none of them had me as giddy as the Corvette Convertible’s introduction last week. I was finally able to touch and feel a car that fans of the Corvette (including myself) have been begging to get for decades.

With the Corvette coupe, we asked for a mid-engine sports car that could keep up with our European rivals. What we got was an American made super car that could not only keep up with, but also out price EVERYTHING on the market. This includes Italy’s Ferrari 488 GTB, England’s McLaren 720S, Germany’s Audi R8, and Japan’s Acura NSX. The Corvette comes in at 1/2 the price or less than all of these machines.

There was no doubt that Chevrolet would give us a convertible Corvette – it is a tradition that dates back to the very first Corvette – but I didn’t realize that the 2020 Corvette Convertible would look this good! Its top down silhouette is an enchanced replica of the Ferrari 488 spider, complete with speedster humps. But for some reason, the speedster humps look better on the Chevy than they do on the Ferrari.

Also just like the Ferrari and the McLaren, we now have a retractable hardtop convertible. This means that you get best of both worlds: a topless experience for when the sun is shining, and a “coupe” experience for the race track.

And for those track day enthusiasts, you will be delighted to know that Chevrolet designed the Corvette to be a convertible from the start. That means both the coupe and convertible should be just as rigid, and offer similar handling characteristics. And with only a ~150 weight difference, both are expected to rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds… like I said before, super car performance.

The Corvette I got to sit in was a preproduction prototype with the top-of-the-line LT3 package. So the fit and finish was spectacular – $200k super car quality for 1/2 the price.

In fact on the way back from my C8 experience, a fellow journalist and I marveled at how Chevrolet’s $67,000 Corvette is going to radically change the sports car and super car world if the performance benchmarks live up to their claims. It is Porsche Boxster pricing, but with Porsche 911 Turbo performance.

I might actually have to trade my Porsche in for one… or add a C8 to the stable.

BONUS: I got to touch Neil Armstrong’s completely original untouched 1967 Corvette Stingray. You might recognized it from Season 3, Episode 9 of the Grand Tour on Amazon Prime.

The Hyundai Palisade: It is pure trickery

Cheap is rarely a bad word, especially when it is used to describe a great value. So when I say that the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is cheap, I mean that to the extreme. It is the bargain of a century! Driving the vehicle on a four-hour road trip to attend a conference, I often lost myself in this sub-$50,000 luxury suv. In fact, I would argue that the Palisade is better than most $80,000+ full-size SUVs on the market.

Let’s face it, true luxury vehicles are not about fancy technologies or 0-to-60mph times. They are about isolating you from the rest of the world. And, the Palisade does just that. Its supple ride mitigates bumps akin to what you would expect from a Mercedes SUV and its noise insulation properties make it supremely quite. I had a group of people in the vehicle curiously ask: “who makes this?” Without the big H on the front, its exterior styling cues would make you think German versus Korean. Click Here To Continue Reading

This Is Why I Switched From The Porsche Dealer To An Independent Mechanic

This is not a paid review. I did not receive any compensation for telling this story.

Like most automotive journalists, I drive a press vehicle as my daily driver. It is awesome driving the latest and greatest, including vehicles ranging from family wagons to super cars. But being a car guy and a track day enthusiast, I have to own at least one car.

A little over 5 years ago I purchased an out of state 2001 Porsche Boxster S with 20,000 miles on the odometer and detailed service records from the previous owner’s local Porsche dealer. Having drank the manufacturer cool-aid, I thought the dealer was the best way to go. So for five years, my baby went to the dealer for regular oil changes, brake flushes, and minor wear and tear item repairs. I knew that I was likely paying more, but I was also getting the free lattes and cookies, a Porsche loaner vehicle, and the piece of mind that the mechanic working on my car should be a Porsche expert… but the later is not always the case.

A month before the annual Porsche Parade (The Porsche Club of America’s National Convention), I noticed a consistent harsh noise every time I made a high speed tight left turn while applying the throttle. This noise was especially troublesome because I was planning to enter my Boxster into the club’s autocross race during Porsche Parade. So I dropped my baby off at the local Porsche dealer in South Florida to be diagnosed and they gave me a shiny new Macan to drive. A week later the dealership’s Service Advisor called me up and said that my issue was related to suspension components. $2,000 later my vehicle was fixed and ready to be picked up. Assuming that my Porsche was in tip top shape, I drove leisurely on the way home and my car sat in the garage for a couple weeks.

Fast forward to Porsche Parade week… it was finally time to test my skills in the autocross competition at Palm Beach International Raceway. Every left turn, my stomach twisted as my car screeched a harsh noise. I instantly knew the problem was NOT fixed. Luckily the Porsche community is an amazing group of individuals, and one of my friends at Parade recommended a local independent mechanic who is experienced with working on first generation Boxsters. I was hesitant to make the jump, but I was disappointed that my local dealer, who should know everything about my car, didn’t fix the problem the first time – especially after having my car for over a week.

The following Monday I visited Foreign Affairs Motorsport and met with Bobby, the owner’s son. You could immediately tell that they are true gear heads, with automotive memorabilia and motorsports trophies on nearly every wall of the front office. Their passion is Porsche, but other European brands were also in their shop: a Lamborghini, a Bentley, and several BMWs. I told Bobby what my Porsche’s symptoms were and the history of the problem. To my pleasant surprise, he asked me to take him for a ride in order to reproduce the noise – the dealer never offered this. We drove the vehicle around the block and Bobby almost immediately had an idea of what was causing the problem – it wasn’t a suspension noise. He then put my car on the rack and conferred with his head mechanic. Two years ago, a Porsche 911 Turbo was experiencing the same problem on the race track. The culprit was that the transmission mounts went bad on one side. How could the dealer have missed that? Bobby brought me into the shop and showed me how with his hands he could giggle the section back and forth. The root of my problem was a $1,000 transmission mount issue versus a $2,000 suspension problem.

During his team’s inspection of my vehicle, the mechanic also noticed that my water pump was leaking and that I had a small oil leak. Without asking, Bobby personally showed me the leaks. My local Porsche dealer never let me into the active shop. While both problems were minor, both could lead to catastrophic engine problems in the future. How could my local dealer have missed this too??? I guess they were too focused on selling me a new Porsche.

After this experience, Foreign Affair Motorsport has my business for life. With that being said, there are two instances where I wouldn’t use them: 1) If I am driving a new car where the parts and labor are covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. 2) If I am driving a vehicle that they don’t service. I.E. American and Japanese cars.

Tips for picking an independent mechanic:

  • Check the shop’s references. Do you have a family member or a friend who has had good experiences with the shop? If not, check the shop’s Yelp reviews.
  • Go to a shop that specializes in your type of vehicle. Do they have similar vehicles on the racks or parked outside? Don’t just look at their website, a mechanic who is use to working on your vehicle will be able to troubleshoot the root of the problem quicker.
  • Pick a shop that wants to educate you. Does the mechanic show you the bad part? Does the mechanic offer preventive maintenance advice in order to prevent major problems in the future.

The BMW X3 has grown up!

The 2020 BMW X3 versus 2000 BMW X5

I will admit from the start, it has been a while since I have driven a BMW X3. I haven’t seen one in the press fleet down here in Florida in a long time. However, I was recently in Michigan for a week to escape the Florida summer heat and get some seat time in the X3… aka the baby X5.

The third generation feels much more substantial than previous generations. This time around the X3 felt more like the original X5, in terms of size, performance, and creature comforts…

Size & Weight

The 2000 BMW X5 weighed in at 4,800 pounds, and was 184″ long and 74″ wide. It was a trend setter in the SUV arena, because it was one of the first performance oriented SUVs – it could actually hug corners. In comparison, the 2020 BMW X3 weighs in at 3,900 pounds, and it is 2 inches larger and 1/2 an inch wider than the 1st generation X5. The increased size translates into a similar cabin space for occupants and more cargo room. The X3’s weight savings despite its proportion is thank to 20 years of BMW R&D into aluminum and other modern materials.

Performance & Driving Experience

Although the latest generation X3 is bigger than the first generation X5, the base X3 engine is less than 1/2 the size of the top-of-the-line X5 of the era. The original BMW X5 optionally packed a 4.4L V8 producing 282 horsepower and 324 torque. Where as the 2020 BMW X3 comes standard with a 2L twin-turbo inline 4-cylinder that pumps out 248 horsepower and 258 torque. The 2020 X3 doesn’t have a mighty V8, but it accelerates blistering fast in comparison due to the X3’s 8-speed automatic gearbox and weight savings: X3 0-60mph in 6.0 seconds, versus X5 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds. In terms of hugging corners though Click Here To Continue Reading

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary: An Historical Tribute To The 240Z

In 1970, the original Datsun (aka Nissan) 240Z quickly became a halo car for all Japanese manufactures. It proved that Japan wasn’t just a country for small economy cars; that they could make vehicles worthy to compete with best in-class sports cars from American and European automotive manufactures… The only way to beat them at their own game was to dominate them on the race track. My Father wasn’t the legendary John Morton or Bob Sharp, but he did race his 1970 Datsun 240Z with SCCA and won the 1973 Mid-Am Championships. I remember hearing stories from my Father, reminiscing about how he would easily win road course races against Corvettes and Porsches despite having less horsepower. The small and agile 240Z was able to outmatch the competition due to hits handling characteristics and comparatively modern overhead cam engine plus disc brakes. The 240Z’s race wins by Z drivers throughout the country made the car famous, but the engaging driving experience is what made cult following for Z cars.  Click Here To Continue Reading

Get It While You Still Can: the 2019 C7 Corvette Grand Sport

The 2020 Corvette is ushering in a new generation for America’s sports car. The C8’s mid-engine design means better handling around corners and improved grip off the line. The Corvette will finally and truly be able to keep up with the best from Porsche and Ferrari thanks to its new architecture.

Those in favor of the latest and greatest will love the mid-engine C8, but let’s not forget the C7. It represents the pinnacle of front-engine sports cars with a 60+ year heritage. And since this is the last generation of front engine cars using the Corvette name plate, it will surely become a collectible.

Upon first approach, the long sweeping hood paired with hood scoops and side scoops scream race car. They are a visual tease to the 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 lying under the long hood, just behind the front axel. The pushrod engine pumps out 460 horsepower and 465 pounds-of-torque, which can be paired with either an 8-speed automatic or 7-speed manual transmission. This will be your last chance to get a new Corvette with a manual transmission, so get it while you still can. Dual clutch transmissions, like on the 2020 C8 Corvette produce better lap times due to quicker shifts and reduced power loss, but they lack the emotion connection of manually sliding through the gears one by one. Click Here To Continue Reading